(The Center Square) – Nashville and Memphis have less overall freedom than most of Tennessee's 30 most-populous cities, according to a new index released Wednesday by the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
Nashville ranked last in the free-market think tank’s City Freedom Index, and Memphis ranked 25th. The highest-ranking cities were some of the smaller ones in the index: La Vergne was first, Brentwood was second, Hendersonville was third and Morristown was fourth.
The largest city to perform well was Clarksville, which ranked fifth overall.
The Beacon Center’s first-ever City Freedom Index ranked Tennessee's 30 most-populous cities based on 25 metrics in four categories: free enterprise, private property, individual liberty and cost of government.
The free enterprise category considered how much a city inhibits businesses from thriving. The private property category considered restrictions placed on what a person can do on his or her own property. The individual liberty category considered restrictions placed on constitutional rights, and the cost of government category considered taxes and fees that burden residents and the overall size and cost of government per capita.
Each category accounted for one-fourth of the overall score.
Well-performing cities tended to prioritize core central services rather than getting involved in services usually provided by the private sector, Ron Shultis, the Beacon Center's director of policy and research and the main author of the report, told The Center Square. Cities that perform poorly tend to compete with the private sector more for services and put higher restrictions or fees than the statewide minimums, he said.
“Nashville came in last for a lot of different reasons,” Shultis said.
The city ranked last in the free enterprise ranking and second-to-last in the private property and cost of government ranking. In individual liberty, Nashville ranked just outside the top half at 17th.
Shultis said Nashville competes with the private sector more than any other city in the country for providing services. The city adds a lot of local restrictions on businesses that aren’t mandated at the state level and provides a lot of subsidies that pick winners and losers. Nashville's cost-of-government ranking was low partially because it has the worst debt of any city.
Most cities scored within the same ballpark in most categories, and cities didn’t often score very high in some categories and very poorly in others. However, Shultis noted one of the main exemptions: Memphis, which ranked first in individual liberty, despite ranking 26th overall. The city was 27th in free enterprise, 15th in private property and 28th in cost of government.
Attaining a large event permit in Memphis is comparatively easy, the city has less aggressive penalties for violating ordinances and attaining products, such as fireworks, is relatively easy. However, Memphis has one of the worst pension situations, high debt and high property taxes. The city also places additional restrictions on business operations and higher fees to generate additional revenue.
Shultis said Tennessee cities generally do a good job, but the Beacon Center's index will help show where some cities deviate from the norm in protecting some freedoms. He said the comparison of cities will help residents make change at the local level or vote with their feet if they do not feel their freedoms are protected enough.
Spokespeople for Memphis and Nashville did not respond to a request for comment.